…where I discover mysterious new French vegetable
Note: For this story to make any sense, you must know that I am an English-Canadian ex-pat living in the south of France.
The other midday I had a few minutes to spare, and I was and kind-of-hungry and equally kind-of-lazy so I decided to grab a sandwich at the local patisserie a few meters from my place. I’ve had the sandwiches there before and they’re always terrific and judging by the perennial line-up out the door, I’m not the only one who thinks so. It’s a busy little place. Usually, where I get there, I stand in line and I can’t see anything until I get close to the sandwich case and I certainly don’t want to hold up the line like everyone in front of me always seems to do, so I usually have to think fast and pick something where I’m not quite sure of what I’m getting … I only know that it looks good. This happens not only because of the aforementioned always-moving line, but also because the descriptions on the little cards in front on the sandwiches are always smeared and in cursive and I can’t decipher most of the words for the local foods anyway.
Today, none of that mattered because the lady in front of me confidently, loudly and immediately ordered three of the last four “Savoyardes”. Following the cashier’s tongs with my eyes as she moved to the sandwich case, I could see that the Savoyarde is an open-faced sandwich on a thick, light-coloured, and seeded rustic bread with what looks like smoked meat on top, along with a creamy coloured vegetable of some kind, covered with an equally creamy butter-coloured fondue cheese — gratineed, and topped with fresh herbs. As I watched the cashier put those delicious-looking sandwiches into the lady’s bag, and with the one remaining Savoyarde seemingly calling my name out loud (Stephan, manges moi!), when it was my turn I simply said (with not nearly as much confidence or nearly as loud as the lady before me) “Je voudrais votre dernier Savoyarde, s’il vous plait.” And two minutes later my sandwich was back at home (along with a pain chocolat amandes, just in case it sucked) heating up in the oven for a bit. A few minutes after that I was digging into it.
I did not regret my choice; it was sandwich heaven. The marriage of flavours was amazing. The meat, cheese, and bread was fantastically fresh and this buttery-textured mystery vegetable really rounded-out not only the flavour of the sandwich, but also the mouth-feel of it as well. The only problem was that I couldn’t quite place what vegetable it was. It definitely wasn’t eggplant, though that would have been good too. It could have been artichoke, but I eat a lot of artichoke and after consideration felt it wasn’t quite that either. I racked my brains and while I ate I found myself switching on my PC and searching Google for the identity of this strange yellow-beige French vegetable, much like I had months earlier successfully searched to determine the origin of the not-nearly-so-tasty flageolets…
As good as it was, as I finished the sandwich I was disappointed. I just couldn’t figure out by sight or by taste what that damn vegetable was (or even if it was a vegetable) so that meant I wouldn’t ever be able to reverse engineer this simple sandwich and make it for myself, or even know how to ask what that ingredient is the next time I am at the patisserie. Because if you think I can walk into a patisserie and ask about a mystery item, you can forget it. With my school-boy French, I would be all like, “I am here yesterday (since all I know is present tense) and I would like a sandwiches (because I suck at definite articles) like yesterday, with one vegetables (because I have trouble with indefinite articles too) around butter yellow or white. (because I can never tell if the adjective should go in front of or after the noun)
I had saved a little bit of the delicious veg while I was eating and searching online and now, pushing that last little bit around the plate, I realized I wasn’t going to ever figure it out, so I popped it into my mouth and that’s when it hit me.
It was potato.